Denial is more than a river in Egypt. It runs through the Clinton administration’s Sudan policy.
As the media attention on my book “Losing bin Laden” grows and it climbs the New York Times bestseller list, some former Clinton officials have emerged to deny the undeniable. (See Op-Ed at left.) They deny that Sudan ever offered to arrest bin Laden and turn him over to American justice, they deny that Sudan ever offered to share its intelligence files on bin Laden’s terror network, and they offer excuses for President Clinton’s failure to retaliate following bin Laden’s attack on the USS Cole (which killed 17 sailors). Since the facts and the on-the-record accounts of senior Clinton officials are against them, they are reduced to parsing words and obfuscatory statements. That’s unfortunate. The point of examining Mr. Clinton’s flawed war on terror is not to condemn the former president, but to learn from his successes and his setbacks and apply those lessons to the current phase of America’s war on terror.
In that spirit, let’s examine the record and see how well those denials hold up.
mArresting bin Laden. They write nearby that “no offer was ever conveyed to any senior official in Washington.” Does Sandy Berger, the former National Security Advisor, count as a senior official in Washington? Here is what Mr. Berger told the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman: “The FBI did not believe we had enough evidence to indict bin Laden at that time and therefore opposed bringing him to the United States.” If there was no offer, just what offer was the FBI evaluating and opposing? Or is Mr. Berger telling tall tales?
Other senior Clinton officials are on the record debating the merits of taking bin Laden into custody from Sudan. Susan Rice, an assistant secretary of state under Mr. Clinton, told the Village Voice: “They [the Sudanese] calculated that we didn’t have the means to successfully prosecute bin Laden. That’s why I question the sincerity of the offer.”
You can’t doubt the sincerity of an offer that doesn’t exist. Perhaps the Clinton administration overlooked that Sudan had handed over the infamous terrorist, Carlos the Jackal, to the French. He now sits in a French prison, while bin Laden is free. As Ambassador Timothy Carney argued in 1996, even if the offer wasn’t serious, why not call Sudan’s bluff? If Sudan failed to deliver, then the skeptics are proven right. If Sudan did hand bin Laden over, then Mr. Clinton would strike a blow against international terrorism.
And, of course, Sudan did make good on its word to expel bin Laden from that country in May 1996 — at the Clinton administration’s request. If Sudan could expel bin Laden, why couldn’t it arrest him?
mSudan’s intelligence files. Some Clinton administration officials deny that Sudan offered to provide its intelligence files on bin Laden. In my research, I’ve uncovered letters by senior Sudanese officials, including one from that nation’s president, addressed to President Clinton, top Clinton officials and senior members of Congress expressly offering those files. Besides, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced in September 1997 that she was sending a team to Sudan to re-engage Sudan on terrorism issues. They planned to examine those files. That promising initiative was overturned by the White House six days later. Whose fault was that?
mThe USS Cole. They admit that “al Qaeda was a prime suspect,” but say more investigation was needed to prove bin Laden guilty. They ignore that the CIA had traced phone calls from the attackers to a house in Yemen and from that house to bin Laden’s satellite phone, and traced $5,000 sent to the terrorists from bin Laden. Yes, the investigation was ongoing, but that should have been enough. They forget that America’s enemies are not in a court of law, but are waging war on us. And, even if they weren’t sure that bin Laden was behind the attack, there was blood on his hands. Bin Laden’s network killed 59 Americans in the Clinton years. The retaliation plan developed by the Clinton administration would have smashed all of his terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan — less than a year before September 11.
After September 11, some Clinton officials admitted their mistakes. Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general in the Clinton Justice Department, told the Boston Globe: “Clearly, not enough was done. We should have caught this. Why this happened, I don’t know … We should have prevented this.” Nancy Soderberg, a member of Clinton’s National Security Council, added: “In hindsight, it wasn’t enough, and anyone involved in policy would have to admit that.”
Madeleine Albright recently told Bill O’Reilly, “?do you think we’re so stupid that, if somebody had offered us Osama bin Laden, we would haven’t taken it?”
Madam Secretary, that is now for the American people to judge.
Richard Miniter is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Losing bin Laden: How Bill Clinton’s Failures Unleashed Global Terror” (Regnery, Sept. 2003) and a senior fellow at the Centre for the New Europe in Brussels.